What Is the Unforgivable Sin?: Hope for Those Feeling Too Far Gone
by David Mathis
“Blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”
It’s one of Jesus’s most enigmatic, controversial, and haunting statements. In the last two millennia, many a tortured soul have wrestled over this warning. Have I committed “the unforgivable sin”? When I addressed my angry profanity to God, when I spoke rebelliously against him, did I commit unforgivable blasphemy? Or, perhaps more often, especially in today’s epidemic of Internet porn, “Could I really be saved if I keep returning to the same sin I have vowed so many times never to return to again?”
Despite the enigma and controversy, we do have a simple pathway to clarity. Jesus’s “blasphemy against the Spirit” statement only appears in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). If we get a concrete sense of what he did (and didn’t) mean there, then we’re positioned to answer what such “unforgivable sin” might (and might not) mean for us today.
What Jesus Actually Said
Jesus hadn’t been teaching in public long when his hearers began comparing him to their teachers, called “the scribes,” part of the conservative Jewish group known as the Pharisees. The growing crowds “were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22). The scribes heard the comparison and felt the tension, and soon escalated it (Mark 2:6, 16), as these Bible teachers of the day, with their many added traditions, quickly grew in their envy, and then hatred, for Jesus. The threat is so great these conservatives even are willing to cross the aisle to conspire with their liberal rivals, the Herodians (Mark 3:6).
The showdown comes in Mark 3:22–30 (Matthew 12:22–32). Scribes have descended from Jerusalem to set straight the poor, deceived people of backwater Galilee. “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” they say. “By the prince of demons he casts out the demons” (Mark 3:22).
Jesus calmly answers their lie with basic logic (verses 23–26) and turns it to make a statement about his lordship (verse 27). Then he warns these liars, who know better deep down, of the spiritual danger they’re in…